Opinion and Viewpoint

HENDERSON: On civility and donning the brain bucket

July 3, 2010

LeCrone mugSome of the things I was warned as a young man that I should never get into arguments over were—in no particular order—religion, politics, which hand in a card game wins, and whether there should be a motorcycle-helmet law.

In Brown County lives a friend of mine who has to stay inside most of the winter. This is because his nose and part of his cheek are made of plastic, the result of a motorcycle accident in his early 20s. Eventually, after several surgeries, my friend lives for all seasons but winter— having cheated death itself. No, he wasn’t wearing a helmet. And now, his face freezes.

 My children used to grouse at me when seat-belt laws were put into place. The no-seat-belt fine wasn’t large, and I found seat belts rather confining. The fact that I was 60 pounds overweight at the time had nothing to do with it. One evening, I was driving near the intersection of 91st and Meridian streets. Right in front of me, a truck hit a car nearly head on. The air bags blew in the car. The truck driver was only bruised, as was his truck. The car, however, was mashed to bits. Two people in the car extracted themselves from their seat belts after several of us bystanders checked them for possible injuries. They literally walked away. From that moment, I wore my seat belt when driving.

As I drive the freeways, city streets and the hills of southern Indiana, I see dozens of motorcyclists cruising here and there. For about a half year, I’ve rejoined them after not having ridden since my firstborn was on her way, nearly 25 years ago. I was browbeaten, and properly so, into selling my Honda.

Back then, I wore my helmet once in a while, but really liked the insect-filtration capability of my somewhat long hair.

There is an organization called American Bikers Aimed Toward Education (ABATE) that advances the concept that Hoosier bikers and their passengers ought to be able to ride without helmets. The very governor of Indiana, a bike rider, is a fan of this organization, although the First Brain is protected by the First Brain Bucket—a helmet.

This summer, there’ll be a lot of bad news about Indiana bikers, and the number of head and brain injuries coming from accidents where biker or passenger didn’t wear a helmet. Some will point to Darwinian self-selection. Others will wag their social fingers at me, for believing that wearing a helmet ought to be the law in Indiana.

Another biker friend of mine, a programmer, wiped out on the FDR Drive in New York City. He was wearing a helmet, and he and his girlfriend died instantly. He was going at an outrageous speed and hit an oil slick, then tangled with a stationary light standard. He was an experienced rider and was obviously pushing it. The helmet didn’t help, it’s true. Darwinian selection comes in many forms.

 Ask an emergency-room doc about helmets. They have practical answers. You can see it in their eyes. Subconsciously, they also put their hands on their stomachs. We need to join many other states in mandating helmets. I hate legislating behavior, but what we do in this world greatly affects others.

The selfish, if invigorating, act of not wearing a helmet chimes in with the problem of secondhand smoke. At some point, the Legislature and the governor agree that with liberty comes the responsibility of civility. Otherwise, we devolve back to our tribal origins.• 

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Henderson is managing director of ExtremeLabs Inc., a Bloomington computer analysis firm.

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